27 April 2011

Preach the Word - Psalm 119 Partial Recap, Part 4

It's hard to believe that it's been almost 3 weeks since the Psalm 119 conference, and I still haven't finished recapping it! See, like I said, it really would be so much easier if all of my readers would simply attend one of the conferences! Reviewing and transcribing my notes, though, is probably benefitting me more than my readers, as it allows me to really ponder all of this information, and to subsequently apply it rightly in my life. So I thank you for humoring me!

Thus far I have recapped the sermons delivered by Todd Friel, James White, and Milton Vincent. Three down, two to go! Today I'd like to review Phil Johnson's talks. If you aren't familiar with Johnson (seriously, what is wrong with you?!) he is the Executive Director of Grace to You, one of the Pyromaniacs of Team Pyro, and shall I say "curator" of the Spurgeon Archive. He's also a wonderful expositor of God's Word whose teachings have been a blessing in my life. To hear him speak in person was an honor for me, as was having the opportunity to meet him and his wife, and to thank him personally for his ministry. In fact, the opportunity to meet all of the speakers at Psalm 119 and to offer my heartfelt thanks for their dedication to God's Word and truth was a great privilege for me. But I digress...

Phil's first talk centered largely around 2 Timothy 4:1-5. I believe this message was adapted from this year's Shepherd's Conference, which I actually really appreciated. Though this passage of Scripture is first and foremost directed at Timothy and pastors, hearing it taught reiterated how applicable these verses are for all Christians in their ministries. And trust me--even if you don't preach, or teach Sunday School, or lead a Bible study, you do have a ministry. Do you have an unbelieving spouse, or children whom you are raising in the faith? Do you have coworkers, neighbors, friends? Then you have a ministry, dear Christian. First, a look at the text:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5)
This letter was the last that Paul wrote before he was martyred, which I think helps drive his words home even more strongly. Here was a man who had surrendered his entire life to the preaching of God's Word and who was about to die for doing so...why wouldn't we take his words dearly and carefully to heart? Johnson spoke about the truth of this passage not just for preachers from the pulpit, but for all of us. Paul is telling us how to live. Nine points:
  • Preach the WordPreach the Word. Isn't that what we are called to do? Preach God's Word. Faithfully. Boldly. Unashamedly. You don't have to fancy it up or make it more exciting or palatable. You don't even have to worry about being convincing enough to save anybody (because it's not our job to save)! You just have to preach the Word. 
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. (2 Corinthians 4:5) 
For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)
  •  Be ready in season & out of season: The language here is that of being on "standby" as well as to "take a stand." We preach the Word whether it is popular or not (and honestly, has it ever been popular?). Here I think we can even turn to the words of Peter in 1 Peter 3:15, and say that we should always be ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within us! In season and out of season...notice that Paul does not give instruction to Timothy that, when the Truth is unpopular, he should go ahead and dress it up in the world's clothing in order to make it more appealing? 
  • Reprove: Refute falsehood. When people are wrong, tell them (in Christian love, of course). Do not sacrifice truth at the expense of "unity." Jesus didn't, so why do we?
  • Rebuke: This goes one step further. This is strong disapproval and even denunciation of falsehood.
He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:9)
  • Exhort: Do so with complete patience and teaching. Exhortation includes giving comfort. Preach for the good of the hearers. While we do not "dumb down" the message of the Gospel, we also must realize that people will not be won to the Truth by constant scolding. Even a firm rebuke can be given in gentleness. 
This point about exhortation hit home for me, because I know that I err heavily on the side of "constant scolding," although I usually prefer to call it "snarkiness." Does the truth need to be proclaimed in the face of error? Yes. Does error need to be strongly spoken out against without apology? Absolutely. But can that still be done in a firm, yet gentle and even loving manner? Yes. After all, if we are exposing falsehood, are we not doing so in the hope that those who have been deceived by it, and even those doing the deceiving, will come to repent of their false teaching and turn to Christ in true faith? So how will a deliberately "snarky" attitude help people to come to that point? It won't. If anything, it will drive them further into their deception because the truth has not been proclaimed in its appropriate beauty. I'm not saying there can't be a time and a place for sarcasm (if there isn't then I should just shut down right now!) but to be truly faithful to the Word of God, there needs to be an element of exhortation even as we expose the false. I am definitely praying for God to soften my heart and my words in this direction.

2 Timothy 4:3-4 takes a quick break from the list of imperatives as Paul warns Timothy that a time is coming when people will desire deceptive teachings. The language in these verses offers a recurring theme of mythology; these are man-made narratives. People will have "itching ears," or a lust for novelty that overrides truth and results in an intolerance for sound doctrine. I think it's really interesting that this warning immediately follows Paul's order to rebuke and reprove, but to also exhort. There is false teaching...an overabundance of it! And it must be refuted, but Christians still must maintain an air of exhortation even, or perhaps especially, because they are defending the Gospel. In the end, we must be devoted to the sound doctrine; the faith delivered once for all to the saints (Jude 3). Back to the list:
  • Be sober-minded: Always. Be alert, be serious (this may mean that silly string and Transformers in church aren't a wise idea), and be watchful.
  • Endure suffering: This is an inevitable and inescapable aspect of every Christian's duty. If we are living in light of these imperatives, then we are undoubtedly living and proclaiming boldly for Christ. And if we are living and proclaiming Christ boldly, then we will be persecuted. In many countries Christians are arrested or murdered. In America, we lose friends. Or maybe we miss out on a deserved promotion. Or, more and more, we do face the possibility of arrest. Embrace it. Paul endured many persecutions and trials and warned that all Christians would (2 Timothy 3:12). Paul and the other apostles and the early church considered it a great honor to be persecuted for the name of Christ, so why should we shirk from it? It will come to you, I promise, in one form or another. If you are suffering for Christ's sake, embrace it and thank God for it.
and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5:40-42)
  • Do the work of an evangelist: This one's simple: Preach the Gospel!
  • Fulfill your ministry: We do this when we preach and proclaim the word as Paul has just described in the previous imperatives. 
The remedy for "itchy ears" is the faithful, forceful preaching of the truth. Amen to that!

Well I see that, true to form, I've gotten long-winded again! I'll keep this review of Phil Johnson's second sermon brief. In the last session, Johnson focused on Acts 17 and a discussion of culture, conversation, and contextualization.

Culture: In Acts 17:16, it's pretty clear that Paul was repulsed by the culture of Athens, as his spirit was "provoked" within him. He was exasperated by the display of idolatry and paganism and confronted it by proclaiming Christ. When Paul did this, he did so by declaring the truths that most people (both then and now, both there and here) would reject. In this discourse, Paul does not engage the culture by affirming any aspect of it. Instead, he uses their own admission of ignorance (Acts 17:23) in order to launch into his proclamation of the true God. This moves us into a look at the conversation...

Conversation: Paul is very clearly not there to exchange ideas, he is there to declare the truth plainly and simply. Yet today, what do we see churches everywhere doing? Entering into "conversations" in order to arrive at, what? Some sort of agreement? To agree to disagree? Why are we having conversations with Muslims and Buddhists and atheists? In order to affirm some of what they believe? How is that boldly proclaiming the whole truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? And where do all of these "conversations" lead? Have any of them resulted in true conversion? Or have they merely succeeded in confusing those who were already living as nominal Christians and false converts, driving them further into whatever deception has enveloped them?

Finally, contextualization: If you read Paul's discourse in Acts 17, he did not adapt his message to the culture! What he did, in fact, was challenge their most precious presuppositions. He took their supposed religion to task and he capped it all off with a call to repent in Acts 17:30.

In today's gray postmodern world, those who appear with a message of black and white aren't very popular. If we follow the example of Paul, however, we see that he simply proclaimed the message he was called to preach. And what was the response? Most people mocked him. Some decided they wanted to hear more, and others, the minority, believed.

The good news is that we don't have to learn a vast array of speeches and material. We have one message to proclaim and that is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have one strategy, one approach, and that is to unpack that amazing story of Christ. The bad news is that, if you do that, you won't be very popular. You'll be mocked. You'll be whispered about. But hey, who cares? Jesus Christ was beaten, spit upon, bloodied, and abused beyond recognition and then He was nailed to a cross and died for my wicked rebellion and sin against God. I think I can handle a few sideways glances in return!

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